MADISON — Ginny Ladd’s tendencies to hold her husband Beecher’s hand and sing to him is one thing Betsey Wacome, activities director at Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center, remembers most about the end of the couple’s 77-year marriage.

“She was very outgoing and sang, and he would sit with her,” Wacome said. “When we would have entertainment at night, she would sit and sing a song to him that they were playing. She would sing it right out loud.”

The nursing home staff marveled at the couple’s long marriage, which earned them a nomination for a statewide award recognizing achievements of nursing home residents across the state.

The Ladds were scheduled to receive the Remember ME award from the Maine Health Care Association on Tuesday, but 98-year-old Virginia Ladd, known as Ginny, died March 10 after a fall led to a blood clot and other complications.

The annual awards, which are in their 14th year, recognize nursing home residents around the state for their achievements and contributions to the community. The Ladds are the first married couple to receive the award.

“It was pretty obvious that in everything they were a team,” said Nadine Grosso, vice president and director of communications for the Maine Health Care Association. “Who’s married that long now? I mean, really. That was really impressive, but also the way they went about it – getting married on the sly and then having it last all those years was pretty impressive.”

HUSBAND WILL ACCEPT AWARD

Beecher Ladd, 95, plans to accept the award Tuesday on the couple’s behalf.

“We’re saddened that we lost Virginia, but we’re still planning to take him (to Augusta for the awards ceremony),” Wacome said. “I think it’s one of the first-ever nominations they’ve accepted for a couple… . It’s exciting.”

“They stayed together for so many years, despite hardships, losing children and being sick themselves,” said daughter-in-law Marilyn Ladd, of Oakland. “They just kept on going. They kept their faith, and for her, it was her time to go.”

Ginny and Beecher Ladd married as teenagers in 1938 after eloping to New Hampshire, because in Maine it was illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to get married without parental permission, their family said.

Ginny, who grew up in Fairfield, was 19 and Beecher, who grew up in Waterville, was 17. They traveled in an open touring car with wooden-spoke wheels and rode to Gorham, New Hampshire, to get married. When they returned, they continued to keep the marriage a secret until Beecher turned 18.

When asked how the couple broke the secret to their families, son Beecher Ladd Jr., who goes by the nickname Phil, said he didn’t know.

“I have a feeling he just turned to his mom and said, ‘Hey, Mom, see you later. I’m taking off with my wife,'” said Ladd, 68, of Pittsfield.

The couple lived in Harmony after they were married. Both worked at Bartlett Yarns making wool socks. Beecher Ladd was drafted into the Navy in 1944, during World War II, and served in the Philippines.

His wife had moved back to Waterville, and they lived in a house on Central Avenue. In 1981, the couple was featured in the Morning Sentinel for their second house on Central Avenue, an “earth home” that Beecher Ladd built.

TOLERANCE, FAITH

Beecher worked at Keyes Fibre Co. before going to work for the Maine Central Railroad Co., Phil Ladd said. Both Ginny and Beecher also worked for the Ladd Paper Co., a paper products distributor started by Beecher’s brother Lloyd Ladd.

Ginny’s “tolerance for the things (Beecher) did” was one secret to their long marriage, which was not without its struggles, Phil Ladd said. “He was very headstrong. If there was something he wanted to do, he was going to do it,” he said.

The couple had four children, including two who died young.

“They both were very faithful,” she said. “I think Mom was the one that really got him going to church, and he did a lot at the church.”